Hassans has been catching up recently with Associates to discuss key developments in sectors that we're passionate about. It was my turn last week and I was glad of the opportunity to take some time to step back and consider the global legal developments, and the Gibraltar stance, in terms of environment law; a short moment of blue sky thinking on an area of my practice which is very important to me.
Q: What do you believe will be the three most significant factors influencing Environmental law, over the next three years?
A: The first is that I believe the courts will move faster than governments in advancing environmental protection in the law. We have already seen courts across Europe setting precedents about what environmental considerations must be taken into account when making business or policy decisions.
For example, in the notorious case in the UK concerning the new runway at Heathrow airport, the court determined that the planning authorities failed to take into account the fact that the UK had joined the Paris Agreement committing itself to reducing emissions. The Paris Agreement is an international obligation and therefore is not even domestic law in the UK, but the court found that it did constitute “government policy” and therefore should have been considered by the planning authorities.
Another important influencing factor in this area is going to be the increasing cost of failing to “go green”. Businesses will look for cheaper fuels whilst the price of carbon rises. This will give rise to new technology, new infrastructure and potentially movement in the merger and acquisition markets in certain industries as large companies acquire greener companies to streamline their processes. Political instability will also make it more important for countries to diversify their energy sources.
Lastly, stakeholder demand is likely to influence politicians and legislatures, more so than industry. Individuals as both voters and consumers are increasingly understanding the power they harness to demand change. Any government, business or industry which ignores the environment is likely to be seen as unattractive and uncompetitive.
Q: Have there been any, or are there expected to be, any new pieces of legislation in your area of practice, and what benefits may this offer a jurisdiction such as Gibraltar?
A: Yes, the Gibraltar Government in its latest manifesto focused heavily on environmental matters and the latest Budget speeches also highlighted new environment legislation dealing with a range of issues from waste and recycling, to traffic to clean energy. One piece of legislation which has the potential to be truly disruptive is a draft law to regulate and govern the trading of green financial instruments in or from Gibraltar, which our firm’s Environmental Team is particularly excited about.
Globally, we are experiencing a surge in activity in the green markets, with institutional and private investors seeking sustainable investments over traditional markets. This legislation will add to Gibraltar’s excellent reputation for high standards of regulation, by providing comfort to investors that the green projects underlying the financial instrument carry environmentally integrity and financial legitimacy.
Q: What opportunities do you believe Gibraltar has to offer Environmental law?
A: Gibraltar has two particular things to offer in this space. Firstly, as a small jurisdiction we have the ability to make changes more nimbly and quickly than larger countries. For example, Gibraltar was one of the first jurisdictions (rather than a local authority) to implement a ban on balloon releases which are damaging to marine wildlife. Gibraltar also has one of the strictest laws in the world on the trade of ivory; something which is easier to enforce here due to the fact we have limited borders which can be carefully controlled. In the future it would be great to see Gibraltar being one of the first jurisdictions to have all vehicles on the road be fully electric, all public buildings be run on solar power, all vessels to have access to plug-in clean electricity.
The second opportunity Gibraltar presents is in the area of structuring the development and financing of environmental projects worldwide. Gibraltar has an existing reputation for high standards of regulation and for efficiency when it comes to structuring assets and corporate structures. That can be harnessed in the green markets and clean energy industries. Whilst we are are perhaps too small to be able to make a serious impact on global climate change by our domestic measures alone, our role in the international business markets could allow us to have a lasting impact on the environment beyond our shores.